We were so excited to have Megan Smith, the VP of Google [x] join us to speak at the San Francisco Summit and we’re even more excited to have her as America’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO). In her new role as the first female CTO she will guide and shape the United State’s information technology policy as well as oversee any future implementations of websites such as healthcare.gov. In addition to her work at Google, she currently serves on the board of MIT, Vital Voices, and is a member of USAID and is the co-founder of the Malala Fund.
Smith begins her talk with an exciting fact, Steve Case, the former CEO of AOL, estimated that nearly 20 % of the early users of AOL were probably gay. Smith notes that the web was “our medium,” and continues her talk with describing the beginnings of Planet Out, a public media and entertainment company founded by Tom Reily in 1995. Planet Out was started with the intention of bringing more opportunities for the LGBT population to engage, interact, and form community with each other in the virtual realm. Smith who later became the CEO of Planet Out affirms that the company was revolutionary, and paved the way for later media that exclusively focused on LGBT communities.
Smith turns to talk about the power of networking, and describes the “Science Fair” that happens every year at the Google Headquarters, “the level of science they can do because of the network, it’s awesome. They are right on the leading edge and they are 13, 14, 15, and 16 years old, the heroic engineering they can do.” She continues on the power of networking with an image out of Google Mapping that shows a 3d model of the globe with vertical lines coming out from different areas of the world with each line noting a variety of statistics. The model spins to grimly highlight Africa where the continent has very few vertical lines coming out where Smith reveals the disparity of networking, “900 million talented people have not been interconnected in the network and that’s nots ok.”
Smith briefly highlights the power of data and the cloud to reflect back the knowledge that we as a collective body have, noting examples such as Khan Academy which aims to redefine how education is obtained. Additionally, she vouches for the notion that we must change the language that is used when talked about technology to encourage more young people to get involved, noting a school that changed their course title to “creative problem solving.”
Smith introduces an idea that may change the way we think, the “Moon Shot,” an idea she revolutionized at Google [x]. It is simply the idea of taking a “really huge problem in combination with some possible breakthrough technology and a radical solution.” In this spirit Smith, and colleagues Astro Teller, and Eric Schmidt founded a platform, Solve for [x] to bring “individuals and organizations- who otherwise may not interact with each other – into the same space to discuss and advance moonshot projects.” The combination of a really huge problem, breakthrough technology, and a radical solution is what Smith believes will change the future of technology, networking, and will create an environment of heroic engineering. Smith says “ if x is what you are passionate about; my recommendation is: find your x, go for it, and network with your team.”
With the mindset of the “Moon Shot” Smith highlights how many histories of women in technology have been erased; from women such as Johanna Hoffman who worked alongside Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder to Katherine Johnson who calculated trajectories for astronauts such as John Glenn. Smith is committed to reintegrating those histories back into the general public knowledge and acknowledges that the women whose histories have been erased have one thing in common, they had the audacity to do something big. Smith leaves us with the with the phrase, “How will you celebrate audacity?”